Raleigh 3-speeds. Thoughts and observations on replicating handling characteristics.

Some good observations about three speed handling from Rowan!


Thoughts and observations on three-speed geometry and handling.

(*by ‘handing’ I suppose I am really referring to steering – it’s weight, sharpness, stability and feeling of confidence this imparted)

I jumped on my 1983 Raleigh Superbe bitsa for me short commute today. The first thing I noticed was how differently it handled to my 1959 Hopper which I’ve taken out the last few days. That’s hardly surprising when I look at the bike from the side. The laid back angles and long sweeping curve of the fork give me an idea that the old bike is going to be stable, and feel a tad lazy into the turns. It’s a lovely ride, but heavily biased towards rolling along in comfort, with a goodly weight hanging from the saddle in the obligatory Carradice saddlebag. The modern (in Raleigh 3-speed terms) Superbe handles like a true all-rounder. No drama, no extremes, in…

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What to do with a 1953 Rudge Sport

Here’s another blog to prove me wrong when I said there’s no Three Speed Blogs anymore! 😉

Ironically, I also owned a 1953 Rudge Sport with that alloy shelled AW hub. I never repainted mine though. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes…

My escape

And so it begins.

I purchased a 1953 Rudge Sport from a local bicycle aficionado/collector as part of a deal.  He acquired it as part of one of his swap deals. Being a Schwinn kinda guy, he had no desire to hold onto “British stuff” and was willing to part with it and a 1956 Birmingham Hercules (my initial reason for being there) for $40.00 total! I too, wasn’t all that interested in the cruddy Rudge. I was attracted to the Herc’s much better appearance and condition.

The picture does it justice and is not at all representative of it’s actual condition. What should turn, wouldn’t. What should shine, couldn’t. He felt it was destined to have the cables stripped and finish it’s existence as yard art. I brought it home on the back of my truck: my wife’s face reinforced his thinking.

Weeks later, I found some alone garage…

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A Three Speed By the Bay

fb262cbd-c138-4258-af8f-2e50c422f233-1Astute readers may have noticed I decided to bring my Raleigh Superbe with me on this trip to the Bay Area. A three speed in hilly San Francisco? Why yes, I am a little nutty. But I had brought my Bantam on my last trip, and the Crested Butte might be a wee bit too much. So why not a three speed?

As El Presidente of Society of Three Speeds, I often hear from folks that they could not own a three speed because their city is too hilly. And if I’m going to sell the club and prove that three speeds are viable city bikes, I needed to walk the walk not just talk the talk. (Or I guess ride the ride!) So San Francisco seemed like a good enough candidate!

And how did I do? Fine! I didn’t feel like the Superbe hindered me in my enjoyment of the area. The gear range I had, with a low gear around 40”, felt appropriate for where I was riding.

Now granted, I wasn’t seeking out SF’s famous super-steep hills, the ones that go north of 20% grade. But how many people on multi-geared derailleur’d bikes ride up these hills regularly? I didn’t go to Twin Peaks or hit the trails in Marin, but honestly the weather sucked. It would have even been miserable on the Bantam.

But for getting around downtown, SOMA, the Tenderloin? Fine. The Mission? Sure. The East Bay? Well the East Bay is pretty flat until you hit the hills and most people don’t ride into the hills on their day-to-day rides. (Granted, there’s that steady upward incline from bay to hills, but that’s nothing a three speed couldn’t handle!)

And I have brought three speeds to other cities. Vancouver BC has a good incline from water to the center of town, but I did okay. Seattle is trickier as there’s hills everywhere, but I still got around. And if the hill gets too steep, you can always walk!

So next time think about bringing your three speed with you on a trip! Or better yet, ride one around your own city.

Three Speed Plans for 2019, a calendar and a road map

2019 promises to be an exciting year for Three Speeds! Whether you live in the Pacific Northwest or are somewhere else in the world, we’ve got some three speed fun for you! So mark your calendars (or just link to ours).

Full details on these events will happen within the month or two before the event. But the dates have been set!

  • April 1-30: Three Speed Adventure April (worldwide). Just like the past couple years, there are five separate challenges to complete: 1) Ride a three speed at least 15 mi/25 km 2) climb at least a 5% grade for 100 ft/30 m 3) unpaved/dirt for 1/2 mi/1 km 4) coffee outside 5) bike overnight. Registration will open up in March. Full details here.
  • Sat April 20: Three Speed Day Tour (Portland). A 25 or 35 mile ride, mostly along bike paths, to Oregon City and back. Full details and how to register for the ride here. Come on down!
  • Wed June 5: Three Speed Evening Ride (Portland). Our annual Pedalpalooza ride, a 10 mile romp after work. This is our one “open” ride for the year, meaning any bike is welcome. Full details TBA.
  • Sept 13-15: Willamette Valley Three Speed Tour (Portland). A multiple day ride southward using (mostly) the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. This will be a self-supported camping tour. We’ll ride 35-50 miles a day and camp in campgrounds. Full details TBA.
  • Sept 27-Nov 3: Three Speed October Challenge (worldwide). Ride your three speed at least three miles, three days a week, for three weeks. Registration opens in September. Full details here.

Oh yeah, that image above is a new Society of Three Speeds postcard! All members who have either purchased the new 2019 Membership Kit or those who are in Postcard Club will get one! Want in? Become a member or renew your membership! Buy it here.

Hope to see you out there!

Three Speeds: More than classy bar bikes!

I try not to get too worked up about things said on internet forums, but sometimes one particular post gets under my skin. A few years ago this particular offending comment thread went thusly:

Person A did a 12 mile test ride of their new-to-them three speed. Person B thought this was “gung-ho”. Person B doesn’t ride their three speed bicycles over five miles, preferring to use another bike for “distance”. And yes, Person B “knows” that you can ride a three speed over five miles, but has given up on that idea. All this took place on a forum about appreciating three speeds!

This isn’t an isolated case. To some, a three speed is a bike that you ride around the neighborhood, or to the nearest grocery store or bar, or a few miles on a bike path, or on your local Tweed Ride. It’s not meant for “real” rides. For a “real” ride, you need another bike, a “real” bike. While I expect folks who don’t ride or like three speeds to think this, it’s really disheartening to hear this thinking from those who do.

Of course, I strongly disagree with this! Three speeds are real bikes, meant for real rides. They have always been meant for real riding, not short pootles or twee(d) rides.

The Society of Three Speeds is all about promoting three speeds as real bikes, viable transportation. If you are like one commenter who think SoTS is just a vintage bike appreciation group, you’re missing the point. I’ve used my three speeds ass my daily commuter (up to 12 miles each day!), my fun bike, my go out for a long ride bike, and in a few instances, as a touring bike. It has worked well in all those capacities.

Is it always the best tool for the job? No. But sometimes we worry too much about having the “right tool” for any possible scenario we may face. This line of thinking translates into having a large stable of bikes, each one a very specialized steed. Hey, you need all these bikes because you might “need” that go-fast road bike, the downhill bike, the “gravel” bike, right? Nevermind the fact you go downhill mountain biking once a year, you haven’t raced since 1979, and the gravel you regularly see is a crushed limestone rail-trail.

For many a year, a three speed bicycle was the best tool for any job, because there were no other tools available! During the middle part of the 20th century in Britain, most people only owned one bike, a three speed. They used this bike for their day-to-day transportation, for fun rides, for touring, and even, and even for racing! And you know what? They had fun. Sure, if given a choice they may have opted for some lighter, faster, more geared bike. But they didn’t have that choice, and made do with what they had.

In the 21st century, it’s hard to just “make do” with what you have, because there is a dizzying array of options available, and even if you are poor you could still swing a fancier bike, somehow. (Easy credit!) Because of this, we spend too much time obsessing about the “right tool for the job”, spending many hours on the internet, asking every sort of esoteric question we can think of on esoteric bike forums. On one hand it’s great to be able to access all this free info. On the other hand, it can be debilitating, too much of a crutch. We spend too much time thinking about doing things than the actual doing of things. Choices are good, but too many can lead to analysis paralysis.

So, I ask three things of you, gentle reader:

  1. If you think three speeds are only capable of short rides, please reconsider.
  2. If you own a three speed but only use it for short rides, try it out on a longer, more “extreme” ride. See how it does.
  3. If someone tells you that a three speed is only capable of short rides, give ’em the business!

And most of all, don’t overthink it. Just go out there and ride!

Three Speed Day Tour, Saturday 20 April

I’ve talked about doing a longer day ride for some time, no better time than now!

Calling all three speed enthusiasts from the Northwest: Join me for a 25 to 35 mile ramble on Saturday April 20th! Destination: Oregon City, where we can have a fine lunch, use America’s favorite municipal elevator, tour the promenade, and see the Falls. Then we ride back to Portland. Lovely!

This ride is open to all bikes that have a three speed internal geared hub. Hub and bike can be of any age and from any country. We also accept four and five speed internal geared hubs, but nothing larger. No derailleur equipped bicycles unless: a) it is on a Brompton or b) derailleur acts as chain tensioner.

You do not need to be a member of Society of Three Speeds to be on the ride. If you are not a member, you can purchase a membership on the day of ride for just $20.

There will be two options to the ride: The shorter (25 mile) would end at Clackamas Town Center MAX station. The longer (35 mile) would be a full loop, continuing on the I-205 and Springwater paths back to SE Portland. It doesn’t matter which option you’ll choose, you’ll have fun no matter what!

The details:

  • This ride will happen on Saturday April 20 at 9 am. We’ll have breakfast at Ford Food and Drink. This is just a couple blocks north of the SE Clinton/12th MAX Station on the Orange Line.
  • If’n you aren’t into a full breakfast, just meet us at the cafe by 10 am. This will be the departure time.
  • The main ride is about 25 miles. You can check out the (not finalized, rough draft) version of the route here. This route is fairly flat and is about 50% bike path! There are a few hills, though so be warned. This end point will be the Clackamas Town Center MAX Station on the Green Line.
  • For those of us who want to go further, we can ride the full loop of 35 miles. You can check out the (not finalized, rough draft) version of the route here. This full loop would be dependent on time, energy levels, and weather.
  • This is a LEISURELY ride. We will take our time, we will have breaks. Don’t think we’ll be done by 1 PM. Nope, this is not that type of ride! Expect to be out until early evening and you won’t be disappointed or stressed.
  • We’ll have a good break in Oregon City to get sit-down food and adult libations.
  • We’ll have a tea stop at some point. This is BYO, either bring hot tea or be prepared to make it with a stove. Coffee and other hot beverages are OK too.
  • We plan on riding rain or shine. If it is truly stormy, this ride may be postponed or cancelled. But a little rain won’t stop us!

Questions? Please get in touch.

Please sign up for this ride via Eventbrite here. It’s free, and takes only two minutes.